Preparing for winter with multiple sclerosis

Preparing for winter with multiple sclerosis

Ready for a cold snap? With winter almost here, we look at how to prepare for the cold season when you have multiple sclerosis (MS).

Get your vitamin D

Our bodies make vitamin D from sunlight, but in the UK, there isn’t enough sun for most people to meet their targets. Low vitamin D is implicated in both disease activity and as a possible environmental risk factor for the development of MS, but more research is needed.

Public Health England and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advise everyone takes a supplement of vitamin D, and especially in the winter months. They don’t make any recommendations specifically for people with MS, but for bone health in people in the general population, they recommend 10 micrograms daily, which is 400 IU.

Most neurologists like their MS patients to have a daily dose of between 2,000 and 5,000 IU of vitamin D.

MS and the flu vaccine

The flu jab helps to protect you from the worst effects of the most common strain of flu that’s circulating in a particular year. As a person with MS, you qualify for a free flu jab on the NHS, and so does your partner or carer.

You may also be offered shingles and Covid-19 vaccinations. It is generally recommended that you get the flu vaccine. It’s possible that an infection such as flu could make your MS symptoms worse, or even trigger a relapse. The flu itself can also be very serious.

You should ask your doctor or MS nurse which other vaccinations you should have. The flu vaccine may be less effective if you are taking on of the following MS treatments – glatiramer acetate, fingolimod and mitoxantrone. It may also be less effective for the following treatments, although there is less evidence for this – teriflunomide, natalizumab, ocrelizumab.

Colds and flu are more common in winter because people are indoors in close proximity more frequently, which allows viruses to spread. Avoid catching germs by washing your hands thoroughly and regularly when you have touched surfaces or handles in public. Continuing to social distance from people not within your household can also help you avoid catching germs.

MS and cold weather

While it’s well-known that the heat can exacerbate MS symptoms, the cold can trigger problems too. Muscle stiffness and spasms can worsen, as can pain and mobility. Nerve pain in particular can be affected by the cold, including trigeminal neuralgia, altered sensations, the MS hug, and altered sensations such as numbness and tingling.

Most problems pass once you have warmed back to a normal temperature, but it’s wise to try and stay warm.

Wearing several thin layers helps with temperature regulation, especially if you are passing through different environments.

If you feel the cold more than others in your household, you can create your own personal heating system with an electric blanket and/or a hot water bottle.

Making sure your home is properly insulated can help keep heating bills down. The Government has launched the Great British Insulation Scheme which has an eligibility checker you can use to see if you qualify for any free or cheaper insulation.

Extreme weather in the winter can also pose potential hazards when you are out and about. Keeping active and exercising before winter’s arrival are very important. Practising balance routines and strengthening muscles will help keep you active and improve your stability.

MS-UK’s online activities includes many types of classes which you can take part in via Zoom that are designed especially for people living with MS. There are three levels, so that all levels of mobility are covered. The aim is to develop strength, flexibility, coordination and cardiovascular endurance which can help improve your daily function and achieve your optimum mobility. What you learn and the strength you gain in these classes can help you with day-to-day activities at home.